As a communications instructor at Capilano University, I teach my students about spin. One of the first things I mention is how public relations practitioners can put a spin on statistics-based facts. I found an example of this in the George Hotel’s list of its benefits to the community.

The George says over 130 full and part time jobs at the hotel will generate an “estimated annualized average income of $40,000.” The spin tactic in statistics often involves the word “average.” The average of incomes would be the sum of all incomes divided by the number of incomes involved. Hypothetically,  it could work like this:

1 CEO income – $2,000,000
1 CFO income – $1,000,000
4 supervisor/managers’ incomes – $50,000 each for a total of $200,000
124 workers’ incomes -$16,129 each, on average, for a total of $2,000,000

Now add that up and divide by 130. You get $40,000 a year. Yes, that’s the “average,” but it’s about $24,000 beyond almost all of the incomes at the hotel. (I guessed at the salaries, but they are feasible for a convention hotel. The main business would come from rooms and convention services. Most workers would probably be housekeepers or servers.)

The better way to give readers an idea of actual income spreads would be to state the median income. The median would be the income at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less. Using the above list, given that most hotel jobs are probably part-time, the median might be something like $14,000 a year, less than a third of the “average.”

I’m not a mathematician, but I hope my rough calculation shows people how statistics can spin facts so they seem much better than they really are. 

Thank you, George, for providing an excellent example I can show to my students. Next week’s lesson will be about image spin. Stay tuned.